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The appellation, named after the municipality of the same name, with around 1,700 hectares of vineyards, forms an island in the large Graves area in southern Bordeaux. It consists of the five communes of Bommes, Fargues-de-Langon, Preignac and Sauternes, as well as with the right to its own appellation Barsac with 600 hectares of it. All Barsac wines may also use the name Sauternes or Sauternes-Barsac, but not vice versa. For centuries, this appellation has produced mainly noble sweet white wines from botrytised grapes. The later US president Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who was an envoy in Paris from 1785 to 1789 and visited many French wine-growing regions during this time, described Sauternes as the best white wine in the country after Champagne and Hermitage. His ranking was also used as one of the criteria for the 1855 Sauternes classification (see below).

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